Referring to The Craft & Co in Collingwood as a restaurant, or a bar, or even an eatery, simply doesn’t come close to capturing its essence.
As you walk into the subway tiled warehouse conversion at 390 Smith Street, baristas grind beans and labour over cups of flat whites, deli staff assist in cheese and meat selections, couples tuck into their Sunday brunch, and a gentleman selects a six-pack from the the bottleshop, where you'll only find Australian-made labels. And you haven’t even gone upstairs yet.
The Craft & Co philosophy is simple: keep it close to the source, or make it yourself. That’s clear once you spot the spirit still in the front window, glimpse the 10 hectolitre Italian made brewery tucked in behind the kitchen, or watch staff making fennel salami and batching the day’s ricotta.
The venture puts the emphasis squarely on the producer, and wherever possible that producer is The Craft & Co itself. The diverse offering makes sense once you understand the venture comes from Paul Baggio, whose various businesses have been supplying breweries, wineries and other food and beverage producers and manufacturers since the early 1990s.
Since opening in December 2015, the team has been brewing its own beers, initially a Pale Ale created in collaboration with Napoleone Brewery in Coldstream and a Pilsner that was a joint venture with the lager maestros at the Lovedale Brewery in the Hunter Valley, before broadening their palate considerably once the in-house brewery was fired up. The taps are dominated by The Craft & Co beers, with space left for beers created at the brewpub by contract brewers or small gypsy outlets as well as The Craft & Co's collaborative efforts.
They now produce a range of spirits under the same roof, where you can also dive into a pairing menu matching The Craft & Co’s considerable cheese and meat options with beers, wines and spirits. Wine options again stretch across Victoria and beyond and, in time, The Craft & Co will be bottling its own vintages from its Bangholme outpost – a 40-acre property boasting its own winery that will in future expand into brewing, distilling, livestock, fruit, grain and vegetable gardens and a cellar door cafe.
The brunch, lunch and dinner menus continue the focus on Australian producers, featuring steak from Robbins Island in Tasmania, prawns from Moreton Bay, and cured meats from across Victoria. But not content with simply feeding and watering its patrons, the venue also offers classes in cheese making and curing your own meat, plus masterclasses covering beer and wine, and stocks a wide selection of packaged retail goods from small businesses around the state for sale.
You could never claim that Smith St in Collingwood is short on options for dining or drinking, but somehow The Craft & Co manages to make it feel like there had been a hole that needed filling after all.